Patients fret about access to records


Although Arlene Rubin wasn't one of the 40,000 patients who received notification they should be tested for hepatitis or HIV as a result of unsafe medical practices at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, she went and had a blood test anyway.

It was negative.

But her sigh of relief was short-lived.

Like thousands of other patients, Rubin's medical records are now in the hands of law enforcement. Without her records from the Desert Shadow Endoscopy Center or a prescription from her gastroenterologist, the 71-year-old can't undergo upcoming treatments for Crohn's disease.

"Did anybody think about this interruption to medical care?'' asked Arlene's husband, Lawrence. "While we appreciate the city and the county for stepping in and shutting these places down, they really threw a monkey wrench into this.''

That monkey wrench is the closure of six gastrointestinal centers in Las Vegas as health officials and law enforcement investigate how six people contracted hepatitis C while undergoing procedures at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, 700 Shadow Lane.

As a result, patients are left wondering how their prescriptions will be refilled and whether their treatment will be delayed. They worry about whether they'll ever get test results for their colon or esophageal cancer.

Janet and Frank Stein of Kingman, Ariz., are among the worried.

"We figured, if left in their hands, they would get destroyed or tampered with,'' said Janet Stein, who underwent endoscopies at the Shadow Lane clinic in 2004, 2005 and 2007.

The couple first made the two-hour trip to Las Vegas on March 2, a Sunday. They spent the night, then went to the Shadow Lane office the next morning. There, they were met by a woman who told them they could pick up their records on Friday. The cost would be 60 cents a page, Janet Stein said.

The couple returned home and drove back to Las Vegas on Friday, but the office was closed.

"I called the office and got nothing but this recording saying until there's a meeting, the office will remain closed,'' Janet Stein said. "I called the (Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners) to inquire about patient records and was rudely told that if I had a problem to call the city and tell them to let the doctors open their offices again.''

Upset, the Steins returned to Kingman.

"I know they need to investigate but they should have some answers instead of letting us hang,'' Janet Stein said.

The Rubins agree.

Arlene Rubin's Chrohn's disease -- a chronic bowel condition that causes inflammation or swelling of the digestive tract -- requires her to undergo infusions of the drug Remicade every eight weeks at University Medical Center.

To receive the treatment, she says, she needs a prescription from her doctor at the Desert Shadow Endoscopy Center, and he isn't answering his office phone.

"There are other physicians in town I could ask to write me a prescription, but I need my medical records first,'' she said.

Cherrie Burns, a case manager for CPS Insurance, a local health and life insurance brokerage firm, said her office also has experienced snags as a result of the closures.

Burns said clients need their medical records to complete their insurance applications.

"This is very frustrating, and we don't know what else to do,'' she said.

Dr. Thomas Hunt, associate professor at the University of Nevada School of Medicine, said the issue is a complex one. But, he said, patients can get lab test results through their primary care physicians.

"For my patients, I can get access to any lab results, but that's if we can track down where samples were sent,'' said Hunt, a family care physician.

"Medical records, though, that's a little trickier.''

In general, Hunt said patients have to go to a physician's office and sign a release of information form to retrieve their medical records.

But investigators who seized records from the various offices say they're developing a process to provide copies of records to patients. Police are working with the district attorney's office and their own attorneys to ensure compliance with all medical privacy laws.

Police plan to announce by Friday the procedure for patients to obtain copies of their clinic records from the agency.

But there might be another problem awaiting some patients. Brian Labus, senior epidemiologist for the Southern Nevada Health District, said last week that the district received an incomplete patient list from the Shadow Lane facility during its investigation.

Review-Journal writer Brian Haynes contributed to this report. Contact reporter Annette Wells at awells@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0283.

 

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